The weekend is no time for rest when it comes to environmental discussions.
That’s why a group of about 10 Ohio University students choose to spend some of their Saturdays touring Ohio waste management facilities.
Principles of Zero Waste Management, which meets four times a semester, combines education with local case studies in preparation for OU’s complete compostable waste goal in 2018.
“Everybody should be concerned with the way that we handle waste in this country,” said Scott Miller, director of energy and environmental programs at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and the course instructor this semester. “We need to be thinking about the entire product lifecycle.”
OU has set several benchmarks to become a carbon-zero, recycle-and-compost-friendly campus by the end of the century, detailed in both the Climate Action and Sustainability plans.
In the next few years, the university has set critical recycling initiatives, including increasing recycling rates by 80 percent by weight of all recyclable solid waste by 2016.
The goal to compost all compostable waste materials by 2018 is also one of these initiatives.
The long-term goal is to become a zero-waste campus, maintaining at least a 90 percent diversion rate of all waste from landfills.
“When the only solution is a dumpster, everything looks like trash,” said Faye Christoforo, director of campus coordination at Post Landfill Action Network, a national, nonprofit waste-reduction program, of which OU is a member.
Christoforo and Alex Slaymaker, an Arizona State University sustainability graduate student, were guest speakers at the first of the course’s four classes.
The first class on Jan. 31 focused on waste reduction at the college campus level, while upcoming classes will highlight waste management from a regional perspective.
Slaymaker, a 2014 OU graduate, was active in the Zero Waste Initiative project in Athens.
“Understanding waste management at the university level is actually transferrable to making positive changes in government or in the business world,” Slaymaker said. “In order to make change, you really have to focus on where you are and act locally.”
Kate Blyth, this year’s graduate student zero waste coordinator, and Leah Wilson, a sustainable OU leader and a sophomore studying geography-urban planning, gave presentations on conservation efforts happening on OU’s campus as well.
“There’s a lot that goes into this, and I’m still learning,” Wilson said.
Wilson is currently working on a master spreadsheet of sustainable contractors for the university’s various construction projects, including the new dorm buildings on South Green.
Blyth, on the other hand, aims to start collecting compost materials from residence halls and academic buildings, which are not currently compost-accepting facilities.
“The solutions for waste management in the 21st century are going to be multi-disciplinary,” Miller said. “The principle of zero waste is not just good for the environment. You’re talking about building business, adding to the bottom line. It’s good for community cohesiveness, and it’s good for the private sector.”
Christoforo believes this “habit-forming time” for college students is the best place to start reshaping America’s cultural view of waste.
“Students in the past have really been the catalysts of change,” Christoforo said. “This zero-waste initiative is in need of that student energy to be able to create sustainable change.”
This story also appears on The Post